Sometimes you just feel it when you’ve found somebody else with that condition. It’s not a sickness, exactly. But it is a condition written in the DNA, impossible to shake for as long as one lives.
When I spoke to Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Chris Kamka, I knew I had found a fellow traveler.
Kamka is a production assistant/associate producer for CSN Chicago. A role of his is to dig up trivia bits and factoids for use on air and on the station’s website. And he’s good at it. Really good. On March 18, for example, he created a stir when he found that when the Blackhawks were playing the Avalanche and the Bulls were facing the Nuggets, it was the first time the cities had engaged in such a doubleheader. It’s the kind of minutiae that geeks geek out on to the billionth degree.
So maybe he’s just really, really good at his job, I thought. Maybe that well-known Twitter feed and his contributions to CSN Chicago were just his vocation, not his avocation.
Nope. Kamka was made for the job.
“I just love being able to answer these questions, especially if it’s stats even I don’t know,” Kamka says. “I’ll spend some time looking. It’s just rewarding.”
Finding his way
Kamka, 33, grew up in Wheeling, and remembers bringing baseball cards with him to family parties when he was five. After high school classes he would hang out at card shops and would also do trivia contests, both in-person and over-the-phone, beating adults.
This all sounds familiar. It helps when you do what you love.
Starlin Castro has more hits through his age 22 season (2012) than 25 of the 28 members of the 3000 hit club (Cobb, Yount, Kaline) #Cubs
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) May 7, 2013
Kamka recognized that in his late 20s, when he chose to go to the Illinois Center for Broadcasting after “a couple different career choices” weren’t going to make him happy.
It’s probably the best decision he could have made.
Kamka has been with CSN Chicago since 2009 after catching on as an intern. While a student at the ICB, Kamka landed that first role with the station and saw what his opportunity was: giving his potential employers something they hadn’t seen before, something they weren’t going to get from anyone else.
For Kamka that was statistics and trivia. He would pepper producers with stuff about upcoming Cubs-Sox series or whatever else was going on. And that didn’t stop when his internship was over. The notes kept coming and coming, until he was finally hired.
“There’s different levels of impact that interns make,” says CSN Chicago news director Kevin Cross, who was an assistant news director in 2009. “Some interns come and go and you didn’t even know they were here. Chris made a significant impact as an intern, going above and beyond the call.”
In Early Wynn's 300th win 7/13/63, Wynn struck out both Hawk Harrelson & Charlie Lau, and Tony La Russa appeared as a pinch runner.
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) January 6, 2013
When that internship ended, CSN Chicago found a role for him. It’s a role he clearly was born for.
Where he belongs
People who love sports are dime-a-dozen. Face it, in that way, Kamka and I aren’t unique. But what makes him original is the ability to not just love sports, but have the capacity and the patience to dive deep and find narratives in numbers. Finding out the ERA of all position players who have pitched since the 1980s, after all, isn’t the kind of stat the average fan can reel off.
“It’s an ability, but I’ll tell you it’s a real lot of time that goes into these things,” Kamka says. “You would be amazed. I can give you a fact I can rattle off in five seconds that’s taken me 45 minutes to find sometimes.”
One of Kamka’s longer projects have come with David Kaplan, who hosts SportsTalk Live along with pre- and postgame shows of Cubs broadcasts. The most recent one had a simple premise with an impossibly tough answer: find the root of the Cubs’ struggles since 1945.
What Kaplan and Kamka found was that since then, the Cubs have the worst home record of all teams that have been around since then. Yeah, that might be something anybody could have guessed, but Kaplan (with a ton of help from Kamka) helped suss out how bad it really was.
In a span of 4 days, a 40-year old has shut out the White Sox (Colon)… and a 40-year old has homered against them (Ibanez).
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 4, 2013
As part of the project, they also examined the 28 pitchers the Cubs drafted from 1995-2009 who threw at least one pitch for the team. Only eight registered one Win Above Replacement during their career.
That, Kaplan says, is what makes Kamka so valuable. It’s not the ability to retain and collect information, but to make it useful for readers and viewers.
“There’s usually a story that can be told if you go inside the numbers,” Kaplan says. “Chris is just amazing at that.”
Always looking and working
Kamka’s place is now secure. His reputation in Chicago is strong—he’s the guy who can find any stat and make it interesting. Tweets from him are routinely retweeted by media personalities and die-hard fans alike looking for more information. He wrote many of the questions for the trivia show, Gas Money.
To keep building on that, he’s always searching. He’ll approach Kaplan or another CSN host with a statistic nobody asked for, one that might be helpful.
“Whenever I’m asked a question I become curious and I need to know,” he says. “There’s just a lot of curiosity that helped me get where I’m at. I’m always wondering who. I love trivia. I’ve been doing trivia all my life.”
When Kamka has nights off he’ll still watch games. If something’s triggered in his mind he’ll look up a stat and send it away, even if he’s off-duty. He’s read 400-500 books and has a collection of media guides to help him gather new information.
One way he does this is by preparing a packet of information about the Cubs and the Sox, to be distributed to a select few reporters. The packets are something he’s done for the last three years for the Sox and began last year for the Cubs, and contain random and obscure facts about each team, printed in alphabetical order
“It takes several months to do, some facts taking several hours to find, along with a lengthy period of double-checking everything,” Kamka says. “It’s a lot of fun to do. The select few that I pass them out to have started to look forward to them.”
Co-workers like Kaplan and Cross appreciate what Kamka means to CSN Chicago. Like me, Kaplan has a brain that sops up sports trivia without even meaning to. We agreed that Kamka is one of us. Actually, we’re two trying to be like him.
According to Kaplan, “he’s the best.”